Comparing the inflight experience on Emirates, Etihad and Qatar during the pandemic
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, airlines are trying to reassure customers that it’s once again safe to take to the skies.
Before the pandemic, you’d likely be served a multi-course meal replete with a top-shelf liquor selection if you’re sitting at the pointy end of the plane. Nowadays, your experience is really going to differ based on which carrier you choose to fly.
That’s why we’ll compare the inflight service on three of the world’s top carriers — Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, the “Middle East Three” that have earned a reputation for top service especially in premium classes and serve several destinations in the U.S. We asked the airlines to detail what their onboard experience looks like these days, and this is what they told us.
For more travel tips and news, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Food and beverage
As one of the most well-known global airlines, Emirates isn’t changing all that much about the meal service onboard. In premium cabins on long-haul flights, the carrier continues to serve hot meals using cutlery and crockery that’s sterilized before each use. Single-use menus and wine lists are on offer.
Though the food isn’t changing much, the drink service is heavily modified. In business class, there’s just one red and one white wine on offer. In first class, there are two reds and two whites. Champagne and beer are available in both cabins, but cocktail service is suspended indefinitely. You can expect Dom Perignon 2008 in first and Veuve Clicquot Brut NV in business.
Limited special dietary meals are available onboard and can be pre-booked on the carrier’s website.
Not much is changing about Etihad’s onboard food and beverage program. Service has not been reduced, nor has the menu or quantity.
Likewise, nothing is changing about the liquor selection on board.
Lastly, special meals continue to be available for those with dietary restrictions.
Like American Airlines, Qatar’s meal service is practically the same as before the pandemic. There’s a full snack and meal service, as well as normal beverage service.
Single-use menu cards are offered, and all meals are served in plastic wrapping. Unfortunately, pre-order meals are temporarily suspended.
Qatar frequently rotates its menu offerings, but premium passengers can expect a choice of two Champagnes (one white and one rosé), three different styles each of red and white wines, plus a dessert wine and a port, which is typically a Colheita or a 20-year-old aged Tawny.
There’s no live TV or free Wi-Fi available on board, nor are there magazines and newspapers.
Standard amenity kits are still offered, and all passengers flying out from Dubai airport are also given hygiene travel kits containing a mask, gloves, wipes and sanitizer.
Pillows and blankets are available in premium cabins, and first-class passengers continue to receive pajamas.
Etihad hasn’t modified any of its amenity offerings. That means premium cabin passengers can enjoy the Acqua di Parma amenity kits, as well as onboard Wi-Fi.
Pillows, blankets and pajamas continue to be available on long-haul flights.
In addition to amenity kits, Etihad is providing each passenger with a wellness kit, including a face mask, gloves and hand gel.
Like Emirates, all onboard social areas and lounges are temporarily closed.
Pillows are available on all flights. Blankets are available on flights over two hours, amenity kits are available on flights over four hours, pajamas are available on redeyes over seven hours and turndown service is available on Qsuite flights over seven hours.
Complimentary protective kits are provided in all cabins, across all routes. These kits contain a single-use surgical face mask, large disposable powder-free gloves and hand sanitizer.
Qatar’s “Super Wi-Fi” service remains available on the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777 fleets.
The doting service that you might expect from Emirates is definitely scaled back. Dine-on-demand is still offered in first class, but there are no hot towels across the board. Welcome drinks are being restricted to first-class passengers only.
Etihad typically provides a dine-on-demand concept for those in business, first and The Residence. That’s not changing, though the service flow will be modified to reduce touchpoints with the cabin crew.
Aside from the flight attendants wearing full-body PPE, you can expect multiple food courses to be delivered on one tray. If there’s anything else you require, the cabin crew will be able to deliver it, the airline said.
Though Qatar is suspending hot towel service, all premium passengers can expect welcome drinks, as well as single-use refreshing wipes. The dining service is still an on-demand concept, though all food will be served individually wrapped on a single tray.
We’re living in unprecedented times, and that is reflected in the onboard service on some of the world’s top carriers.
Each of the three major Middle East airlines have adapted their service procedures to ensure a safer journey. Emirates is definitely curtailing service elements a bit more than both Etihad and Qatar, but you’re still in for a luxurious flight should you choose to travel nowadays.
Featured photo by Victor Fraile/Power Sport Images/Getty Images
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 100,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $2,000
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.